If there was a prize for droll understatement in public relations, the man to beat right now would be New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat who, with 23 construction workers being rushed to hospital after a bridge collapsed at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium early yesterday, had this to say: “The pictures on TV make it look much worse than it is.” The indefatigable Mr Bhagat might have graduated with flying colours from the school of “It’s not a turd it’s a chocolate éclair” media management, but nobody else is buying it. There is a natural tendency in journalism, which reflects a broader human tendency, to dwell on negatives and expect the worst. The bleak coverage in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics is a case in point. Everything from public transport planning and VIP gold seat ticketing to the proposed importation of American marching bands and the issuing of spots in the torch relay for members of the Olympic Family was the subject of relentlessly downbeat coverage, predicting the event would not only be a catastrophe but possibly an affront to our way of life. The verdict? Best games ever.
The coverage in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi is in a different category. It’s likely that things will not just be every bit as bad as has been reported, but possibly also worse. On almost every measure, there are signs that the planning surrounding the Games has been found seriously wanting. Security has already been breached, prompting laughably dissembling explanations from the authorities as to how the shooting in broad daylight of two Taiwanese holiday-makers, smack bang in the middle of Delhi’s busiest tourist precinct, wasn’t technically an act of terror. And whatever Mr Bhagat had to say about it, the collapse of a 50m pedestrian bridge onto a crane and a couple of dozen labourers became a valid metaphor for the broader infrastructure problems surrounding the Games, as evidenced earlier by the Kiwis’ declaration that the athletes village is “unfit for human habitation”. Against this backdrop, the decision by Australian world discus champion and gold medal hopeful Dani Samuels to pull out of the Games should appear neither controversial nor surprising. It is 100 per cent logical and sane. You could mount a decent argument that it was actually a courageous decision by Dani Samuels to put her hand up and speak openly about how frightened she was about going to compete in a country where the most sober security experts are predicting an 80 per cent probability that a significant act of terrorist violence will occur in the next fortnight. “For a couple of weeks I’ve struggled to sleep, felt ill, haven’t been able to train properly. The closer the deadline gets, the scarier the situation has become. So I’ve decided it’s not worth the risk ... I just can’t bring myself to go.” Samuels’ comments were honest, and understandable. She isn’t alone. There are people in the media who had a chance to cover these Games but have declined. There are a few other athletes who have had muscle twinges or worries with form. If not for the spectre of violence, they may have decided to dose themselves up on painkillers or hope that the adrenalin could carry them through competition. But Daniels was the first person to say that she has been listening to the warnings and following the coverage and decided on balance that it isn’t worth risking her life to play sport. Hawkish, hairy-chested critics who trot out the line that the terrorists have won as a result of her actions should ask themselves this – why should the job fall to a 22-one-old woman who is pretty good at chucking a plastic saucer about to sign up for the frontline in the war against terror? Terrorism has already changed our lives anyway. Every time we acquiesce to a random bomb residue test at the Sydney airport, or take off our shoes as we go through the security screen (you know, just in case we’ve lined them with plastic explosives), we’re conceding that life...
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